Over on Open the Future, Jamais Cascio is thinking about Google Glass as a technology heading toward near-constant recording of our lives. Cascio began predicting this in 2005, and saw the obvious move toward honesty and trust this would presage:
It’s a world where we can all be witnesses with perfect recall. Ironically, it’s a world where trust is easy, because lying is hard.
He goes on, though, to worry about what this perfect memory will do, not to the relationship between cops and protesters or CEOs and stakeholders, but between everyday people, lovers and friends:
But ask yourself: what would it really be like to have perfect memory? Relationships — business, casual or personal — are very often built on the consensual misrememberings of slights. Memories fade. Emotional wounds heal. The insult that seemed so important one day is soon gone. But personal memory assistants will allow people to play back what you really said, time and again, allow people to obsess over a momentary sneer or distracted gaze. Reputation networks will allow people to share those recordings, showing their friends (and their friends’ friends, and so on) just how much of a cad you really are.
Is it really misremembering faults that makes us able to move forward? Is pretending that things weren’t really that bad what we want to build our relationships on?
For some time now, I’ve been having almost all serious conversations via either instant message or email. It’s actually easier for me to argue with someone or hash out difficult things when we’re not in the same room; I’m highly empathetic and conflict-averse and it’s hard for me to remember my own thoughts and feelings when someone else’s are physically bearing down on me. The side effect of this is that I have years of transcripts of Big Talks.
And you know what? I almost never pull that stuff up and look at it. I could, certainly, dredge up old conversations to prove who is or isn’t right in a given situation, but that doesn’t help anyone move forward. When I’ve been the one making mistakes, I’m glad that I have record of my failings- a reminder of the ways I misjudge and get selfish and stab people I love in the back. When it’s me getting hurt, having a record doesn’t make it any harder to forgive. If anything, I suppose I could go back, when the emotions have faded, and try to see the other person’s side a bit better.
If we all had such perfect records of our emotionally charged interactions, why wouldn’t it make us better at forgiveness and trusting each other? Perfect records will make it impossible for us to lie about how often we watch shitty reality shows or eat junk food or leave a bad tip, and thus inspire us to either own our flaws or stop doing the thing we’re ashamed of. Perfect records make us admit that it’s a normal human thing to masturbate or have a miscarriage or want to have sex with more than one person. Why shouldn’t they also show us that we are all selfish and shallow and mean sometimes? All of us lash out at people we love, or fail to do something that was vitally important, or put our own needs ahead of someone else’s.
If we’re tracking our every move, we have two choices: a constant war, throwing reminders of past failings at each other every time there’s some new hurt. Or to admit human brokenness, accept a desire to grow and do better, and leave our records safely stowed in an archive so we can build a better future together.